Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy New Year From Hercules! Michael Vick Update (He's got a dog!), and an Unusual and Unexpected Show Animal

A Tale of Three Fillies

    Tails of Three Fillies                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014    

       So far this winter, my town of Acton, about a half hour northwest of Boston, has had well over fifteen inches of snow, courtesy of storms Electra, Falco, and Hercules.  Hercules was particularly cold, so when the horses trotted or cantered they scattered light snow as if it were magical white fairy dust shot through with gold.  I'm sorry that you can't see those glittering flakes in the picture above.  The tails belong, from left to right, to Dolly, Elementa, and Firefly, and it's not hard to guess which of these ladies is on a diet.  I will get back to you with more horse snow photos, but first I want to give an update on a man who, according to a recent survey, is the least liked player in the National Football League (NFL).
       Michael Vick's New (Public Relations) Guardian:  "Angel"

       For those of you who live abroad or were blissfully snoozing in some sinless paradise when star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons Michael Vick was arrested for owning and bankrolling a dog-fighting operation--the Bad Newz Kennels (!), and at the time conducting that illegal business across state lines--here's a little refresher.  He continually lied about his involvement and failed a polygraph test.  It was not until the prosecutors informed him that his cohorts in crime had agreed to testify against him that he copped a plea.  There would be no trial.  The public, if they were interested, would need to look to other than a courtroom to learn how heinous Vick's actions were.  Michael Vick pled guilty to the comparatively less hideous acts of running and funding the kennel.  He was sentenced to 23 months in the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He, however, was never found guilty of one count of animal abuse.

This was yet another case of rich man's justice.  Actions that did not come into evidence were that Vick admitted torturing to death eight dogs--in actuality there were reports of thirteen--and that he tossed family pets in with pit bulls for, according to interviews with the prosecutor, the visceral pleasure of watching them get torn apart.  Vick removed a pet that was severely wounded but did not die, and killed it himself.  Nor did it come into the plea agreement that Vick and a friend took an insufficiently vicious dog named Red by the legs, slamming him repeatedly into the ground until the creature was dead.

      Usually, dogs seized from a pit bull ring are immediately euthanized, and sentences meted out to their owners are lamentably lighter than Vick's.  However, fifty-three dogs remaining at the Bad Newz kennels were able to benefit from the star quality of their tormenter and the copped plea.  Vick agreed to pay kenneling, veterinarian expenses, rehabilitation, and, when possible, the re-homing of his remaining dogs.  Forty-eight of the fifty-three were successfully rehabilitated, and two are now certified therapy dogs.  (Please click on  here to see a video of  seven of the dogs and their owners in California.  The obvious happiness and the love these dogs have for their new owners is touching:

      What might be called "Operation Redeem Michael" was already well underway.  As soon as he was arrested, Vick hired a top-notch public relations team.  For my readers outside the US, you should know that Americans have seen this tactic employed ad nauseam by politicians and celebrities who have gone astray.  And we, myself included, love stories of true redemption.  They can happen.  But how do we know if it is the man or the image that has been redeemed?  Once out of prison, Vick was hired as quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.  He would be paid one hundred million dollars in exchange for playing for the City of Brotherly Love's team for a period of six years.

       Was he truly contrite?  Because I am a dog lover, and because I think pit bulls have been given the rawest of raw canine deals, I have followed Mr. Vick's story with interest.

       From the beginning, words and phrases employed in interview after interview by the quarterback did not resonate well:  "I was immature, I made bad choices."  Vick was immature?  The word doesn't quite apply.  Valid examples of immaturity would be a teenager who sticks french fries in his nostrils and ears while eating with friends at McDonalds, or kids who continue to tell bathroom jokes after the age of twelve.  Pounding a pup into the ground until it's dead is not immature; it is cruel, it is evil, and it is the act of a criminal.  

       Vick spoke more apologetically and, certainly, far more frequently, about disappointing his fans rather than manifesting any true guilt or grief over what he had done to his dogs.  In a once oft- played advertisement for Canon cameras that tennis star Andre Agassi later came to regret, the most remembered tag line line was "Image Is Everything."  Well, to people like Vick image is everything, and image is  millions. 

       So, what did he do to get America back on his side and in his wallet?  Michael found God, of course.  In fact, the dear boy was in such haste to revamp his image that he discovered God well before the prison gates slammed behind him.  Even that gorgeous airhead Paris Hilton had the good sense to delay the God-finding tactic until she'd actually checked into jail.  A narcissist who suddenly finds God is akin to a lobster shedding its exoskeleton for a bigger, thicker, and stronger protective shell.  The shell becomes stronger but the creature's insides are still the same.

       What next in Operation Redeem Michael?  Why the redemptive, and no doubt lucrative, book deal, of course.  In Finally Free Vick again and again admits "bad choices" and "mistakes," as well as making frequent attempts to mitigate them by invoking his environment--life in the projects, drugs, bullets whizzing around, and being surrounded by dog fighting rings.  His web site for the book says he will donate a "portion of the proceeds" to charities in Philadelphia and Hampton Roads. Neither the amount nor the charities are specified.  By the way, you can still get a limited edition copy signed by Michael himself, for a mere hundred bucks.  I don't think you need hurry.

     Enter the next redemptive ploy--his very own clothing line at Modell's sporting goods store.   One of the t-shirts with his number 7 (I'm so sorry, Mr. Mantle) on the front has emblazoned on the back,  "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."  Really, Michael?  Your dogs started out as adorable puppies:  how did they finish?

       Vick often spoke of his intention to own a dog after his probation ended.  In December 2010 he said in an interview:

       "I think just to have a pet in my household and to show people that I genuinely care, and my love and passion for animals (exactly his words);  I think it would be outstanding."  Again, the focus is not on animals in a selfless way but "to show people."  And if they are shown that he is in fact a good, animal-loving guy, then that, in his own words, would be "outstanding."

       He goes on to add:

       "I miss having a dog right now.  I wish I could.  My daughters miss having one, and that's the hardest thing:  telling them we can't have one because of my actions."  Here he is obviously referring to his parole restrictions, but recall that the other reason his daughters  have missed several dogs they once had in their home was that, according to the Department of Agriculture's investigation, Daddy tossed them in with the pit bulls.
       The next and quite possibly final act in this Redemption Play is the puppy:  yes, the law says that after three years of enforced doglessness, Vick may now get one.  And, boy, did he get one--a Belgian Malinois!  His breed selection is yet another indication that Michael just doesn't get it.  The Belgian Malinois is a working breed resembling a German Shepherd, though lighter and sleeker.  A friend of mine, a state trooper, had a bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois for her partner.  Kyra was typical of her breed--elegant, lithe, smart, high energy, high strung, and exceedingly driven.   I'm sorry I could only find the index card of the pictures I took of Kyra, but I place it here so those of you who have never seen a Malinois can get an idea, albeit a blurry vague idea, of what the breed looks like:

                                 Kyra                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014
       Nobody knowledgeable about dogs would recommend a Malinois to a family with children, much less a family headed by a person who once abused dogs for the sake of sating his sick needs for violence and sadism.  The American Belgian Malinois Society has stated that Vick should never be permitted to own a dog, but if he had  to get one, the Malinois is the worst possible breed for someone with his track record.  They added that such a dog could become highly dangerous in the wrong hands.  I'd say Vick has the wrong set of hands.

       When SEAL Team Six went in after Bin Laden, one member of the team was Cairo, a courageous and highly trained Belgian Malinois.  The military uses this breed extensively for bomb sniffing, tracking, and attacking the enemy.  I can't say for sure, but I'll bet that this is what attracted Vick to the breed.  The killing of Bin Laden, and word that a Malinois was part of this mission, coincided roughly when the restriction of his owning a dog was lifted.

        If Vick, as he put forward, was truly thinking of his daughters when he selected his dog, he would have forgone a breed with a high prey drive and one that can easily be made dangerous.   Instead, he would have obtained a dog with an easy-going temperament and high cuddle factor like a golden or a lab.  Additionally, he squandered a chance to set a good example by allowing the Humane Society to find him an appropriate pet, one suitable for his children and one that needed a home. 

        Alas, it appears to me that Michael went with a breed that suited his bellicose and narcissistic needs.  Sure, he's taking little Angel to classes at a New Jersey Petsmart, though certainly he has enough money to hire a private trainer or to attend any number of long-established training facilities.  The American Belgian Malinois Society stated it would be willing work with him to ensure that little Angel gets the appropriate and expert training her breed necessitates.  Anyway, why would Vick want to attend classes at a store whose principal reason is to sell pet stuff to the public?  Doggie classes are just another vehicle to get people into its stores.  Oh, wait, "public"!  That's it.  He is now showing people that he has a dog in his household, that he truly cares and has passion and love for animals.  That is truly "outstanding," Michael!  Was there a deal with Petsmart?   

        Does this man think he needs help?  If he ever did, he doesn't any more.  In fact, he believes he is now the one to give it.   Michael Vick believes that there should be a support group for people involved in dog fighting.  Sounds laudable, right?  

       Unfortunately, Michael appears deadly serious about his.  In support of his proposal  he stated, "The most important thing is that the identities of the group's members would never, ever be disclosed to the public so they can be comfortable talking about their addictions."  No doubt being comfortable is a codeword phrase meaning they need not worry about being arrested.  (And while we're talking about comfort, what about the comfort of the dogs who continue to be tortured and die as a result of these ongoing addictions?")  Vick goes on to say, "Trust me, some people stay awake all night before a big game imagining two Rottweilers fighting to the death in their basement, and they just need someone to say, 'Hey, that's wrong, don't do it.'"  I myself am ready to distrust anyone who begins a sentence with "Trust me," but, in this case, I do, in fact, trust Vick, and I mean completely trust him.  After all, he's been there.  The man knows what he's talking about.  I wonder what occupies Michael's mind when he's lying awake all night before a big game?

        There just is one itty-bitty thing wrong with Vick's suggestion:  most members of his group would already be felons--not convicted felons--but felons nonetheless.  Do pedophiles deserve an organized support group while outside the law?  I don't think so.  Why should abusers of dogs qualify for one?  If anyone has the moral right to a support group it is the dogs that get tossed into the pit, not a bunch of testosterone-driven, cruel brutes masquerading as humans.

       If we live in a karmic world, and I increasingly believe we do, Michael Vick is currently getting his.  His much-lauded book tour never got off the ground because of death threats (I disapprove of this, of course), and due to recurring injuries, he no longer was the Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.  Though I am not optimistic, I truly believe it would be terrific if Vick could actually address his sadistic anger issues, and I mean really address them, not just claim Christian transformation.  I believe--and yes, on bad days I'm just reduced to hoping--there is some sort of moral force in the universe, but I do not think this serves as a halfway house for those who are convinced they've found its address.  Real contrition begins at home, and not by bringing what Vick's ilk would term a "bad ass" dog into the mix.  (Apologies to the Belgian Malinois.)

       This will be the last I write about Mr. Vick.  They say, "bad publicity is better than no publicity," and already he's had way too much face time on my entries.  

Onto the Joys of Creatures  Great:

   Dolly and Elementa                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

     Firefly                                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

     Elementa and Dolly                                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

     Dolly                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

                    Dolly                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

     Elementa                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

          Elementa and Dolly                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

    Dolly                                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

   Dolly                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

                         Dolly                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

        --And Small!

       I'm afraid that I don't have any pictures to go with the following tale, but you will understand why shortly.  A few weeks ago I took our cat Minka for a routine visit to the vet.  Seated across from me in the waiting room was a woman who had a stack of small, semi-opaque, colored little plastic boxes.  They were the sort you might keep leftovers in save for numerous, small holes.  What could be in them--lizards? tarantulas? a species of vicious turtle that must be kept separated unless mating?  I had to know.

       "Excuse me, may I ask what you have there?"
       "Show hamsters."
       "Show hamsters."
       "You take them to shows?"
       "Yes, shows, you know, competitions.
       "You travel to these shows?"

       "Of course, I travel.  All the shows are in California."  I could tell by her tone of forbearance this was a line of questioning she'd had to explain too many times.

       "Sorry if I seem thick.  I just didn't know there were hamster shows."

       "There are."  The woman tapped the lid of the top box proudly with her index finger.  "I have high hopes for this one."  Like the pilot narrator in The Little Prince who drew a box with peep holes so that his royal friend could see the sheep he imagined,  I was left only to wonder what such a champion rodent could look like.

      So here I was, a person who keeps horses at great expense--food, shelter, vet, farrier, and taking them to shows throughout New England--sitting across from a woman who did a variation of the same thing but with three-ounce rodents.  Horses can live into their thirties, but most hamsters shuffle off this mortal coil sometime in their third year.  I guess if your hamster does well in shows they are, compared with horses or even dogs, fleeting experiences.

       I know what equestrian judges are looking for in hunter, jumper, and dressage shows as well as trail, reining, and team penning.  But what would a qualified hamster judge look for in cute little fuzzies that bang their wheels in their cage in the middle of the night while you're trying to sleep? Are hamster shows but a sort of conformation class?  What are the standards?  I was determined to find out more so when I got home I hit the Internet.

       First of all, a place where hamsters are bred and kept is--no surprise here--a hamstery.  The most common hamster kept as pets are Syrian hamsters.  When I go to pet stores to buy food for my goldfish, an alkaline booster that prevents them from beginning to tilt when they swim,  if the salespeople are busy, I've strolled down along the cages of hamsters.  There seem a great variety of colors and coat lengths.  "Panda," "Honey Bear," "Hershey Bear," "Fancy," or "Alien."  It appeared that hamster breeds were becoming as numerous as dog breeds.

         However, due to the intrepid investigative work of your correspondent I can report that this is nothing but a great fraud perpetuated by pets stores.  These are all Syrian hamsters who have been given these adorable and, in the case of the fur-less "Alien," weird names to make them more appealing to customers!  Sheesh, is there no truth in advertising?

     But onto the shows:  there are but seven hamster shows in the United States and, as the woman in the vet's office said, all in California.  However, England hosts twenty-seven!  That's a hamster competition every two weeks!  America, it's time to stop thinking of hamsters as mere pets to be flushed or buried when their cuddly, cute role is finished!   It's time to get on the competitive stick:  we are lamentably behind.  Below are actual criteria for hamster excellence that we must come to know:

       Hamster judging and point system:

       Type:  (25pts.)  This refers to the hamster's physique.  He or 
       she should be short, wide, and have lots of bulk.  Females
       are larger than males but the judge makes adjustments.

       Fur:  (20 points)  Should be soft and pleasing to the touch.
       The fur must be clean with no stains.  (I read that
       competitors give their hamsters pre-show baths, but the
       literature cautions that these are adroit little swimmers and
       can hamster paddle out of your bowl quickly.  At least, 
        so says England's National Hamster Council.  And though a
        delightful Beatrix Potter-ish thought, the Council sadly is not         run by hamsters but humans.)

       Size:  (10 points) The bigger the hamster the better.

          Condition:  (10 points)  This category covers health,
          husbandry, and temperament, which is of particular note 
           Points will be deducted or your hamster even eliminated if
           it is "aggressive, bites, is so unhappy or wild he is 
           unable to be handled, or charges the judge."  Charges! 

            Ear and Eyes:  (5 points)  The ears should be large and 
            with no nicks or folds; eyes should dominate the face.

            Color and Markings:  (30 points)  The judge evaluates,
            according to standards too numerous to set forth here.    
            There are more than forty pattern and coat variations.
            (These variations seem the pet shop cutesy "breeds.")

         Who would guess that a routine trip to the vet would draw me into the complex world of hamster owners, breeders, and competitions?   What I have written so far is in no way intended to make light of hamsters, just the human world in which they must live.  And sadly, of course, it is not all baths, good food, clean housing, toys and cuddling for hamsters.  As a "starter pet" they often die of neglect, ignorance, and abuse. 

       While the hamster deserves to be protected from the human, it occasionally is the reverse, and I'm not talking about hamsters charging judges.  (When judges assume their positions I am sure they are aware of the risks.)  However, if a person has a weakened or underdeveloped (children under the age of eight) immune system, no hamster should come near.  It may carry salmonella, which can seriously sicken someone already in poor health.

      Additionally, pregnant women should not live in a home that has a hamster.  Salmonella poisoning can be passed to an unborn child.  Hamsters also occasionally carry Lymphocytic choriomeningitis.  Exposure to this virus may produce mild flu-like symptoms for a pregnant woman but can have severe consequences for her unborn.

       I forgot to mention that the most common hamster pet, the Syrian, must be the only hamster in its cage.  They are bellicose, and except for breeding, may severely injure, kill, and eat another hamster.

       While we're on the subject of breeding, the poor female hamster comes into estrus every four days.  When she fails to do so this means she is or will soon be tending a litter of up to twelve little hamster pups.  The poor little lady sometimes has twelve litters a year!  

       Newborn hamster pups have there own potentially disastrous problems.  If Mother is disturbed or feels threatened, she may abandon her litter or cannibalize them.  So Mom must be assured of a trouble-free zone in order to raise her children in peace.  However, I have read that very maternal hamsters will carry their babies about inside their voluminous cheek pouches.  This must be very confusing for the committed caregiver.  How long does one need to watch to make sure she is but carrying and not chewing or swallowing?

       That's it for this blog entry.  Next week I'll write about the horses, of course, and try to find time for a word about our dear dog Clem. We've just received his DNA report, and we were surprised!  I will also introduce you to an on-line shop I now have on Cafe Press.  This site carries coffee mugs, jewelry, and skins and covers for your electronic equipment--iPhones, iPod, laptops, etc.  It's currently under construction, so at the moment  limited to mugs and a few items of jewelry, but more will come.  Here's a sample picture that's on one of the mugs:

   Coffee!!                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

       Of course, Dolly doesn't give a fig about coffee:  she is telling our Haflinger mare Firefly, who usually dominates her, to stay away from her hay.  Since her arrival, starved and in terrible health, Dolly has transformed.  She is now leading a life that convinces her she is of some worth, physically and emotionally.  She now believes she need not consign herself to standing on the perimeter of my little herd.  She is now right in there, ready to threaten with pinned ears and bared teeth if she feels affronted.  If she is successfully dominated she will issue a Parthian shot in the form of an air-kick in the direction of her pursuer as she retreats.  I'm seldom happy to see aggression levels rise in a horse, but with Dolly, I'm thrilled.  She showed so little before.

       Thank  you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon--    



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